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Asparagus is actually a member of the lily family and is a perennial, with plants living up to ten years. Most people think that thin stalks are those harvested earlier in the year, but the thickness indicates the age of the plant, with the thicker stems coming from older plants. White asparagus is increasingly available in this country, as is the purple variety.
There is much debate about whether thick or thin stems taste better, but I feel that it is the freshness of asparagus that is much more important to its flavor. Choose firm stalks that are bright green. The tips of the asparagus should be tightly closed. Any signs of dryness or wilting indicates that it is not fresh.
Asparagus doesn't keep well. You can keep them fresher in the refrigerator by cutting the stalks near the bottom and placing them upright in water.
Older, thicker stalks can be woody and peeling the skin at the base will remove the tough layer. Peeled asparagus will poach much faster, however.
4 ounces asparagus = 26 calories, 0g fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, 3g protein, 5g carbohydrates, 2mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol